Tommy Tolles’ classic car intro began as a favor to a friend.
Photo by Tim Robison
Shortly after Tommy Tolles retired from professional golf in 2005, a friend who was moving away from the Hendersonville area, where Tommy’s lived for nearly 30 years, asked him for a favor. “He had a 1967 powder-blue Malibu sitting up on blocks, and he asked if I’d take it off his hands,” Tommy recalls. “It had no trunk lid and was kind of beat up inside and out, but I said I’d take it. But then I knew I had to do something with it.”
Such was Tommy’s introduction to classic automobiles after a successful nine-year career on the pro golf circuit, during which he placed third in the Masters and took home over three million dollars in prize money.
After nearly two years of restoration by Forest City’s C&L Motors, the car’s been reborn as a sleek gray Malibu SS convertible, with original parts from that era, right down to the 325-horsepower V-8 under the hood and the four-on-the-floor shift. The double-layer steel body panels give a satisfying, heavy metal thump when tapped. Even parked, the car imparts a clean, crisp, no-nonsense spirit, ready to overtake most anything on the road without making a big fuss about it.
“The upholstery’s new,” Tommy says, “and the restorer couldn’t find an actual 1967 radio for the dash. The convertible top is new fabric, too.” But everything else is authentic to the car’s original parts catalog, he says, which qualifies the car for showing at antique auto shows, like the annual Chevy show at Pigeon Forge in Tennessee, to which Tommy has taken the car.
The Malibu arrived in showrooms during the social and political upheavals of the late 1960s. Vietnam was dividing Americans, civil rights riots were about to explode in Detroit, and Abbie Hoffman and his fellow Yippies were reminding the country that revolution was as American as apple pie. The Malibu’s clean, streamlined form invoked a stability and certainty that seemed to have disappeared from American society.
Tommy’s Malibu was produced near the end of Chevrolet’s first generation of mid-sized Chevelles, introduced in 1964 and intended to compete with Ford’s Fairlane. The Malibu, with a name playing off the era’s Beach Boy-inspired fascination with a freewheeling coastal California, was merely the nameplate the company gave to a sportier, leaner version of the Chevelle. Tommy’s 1967 model, with wraparound tail lights and a new cantilevered grill, was the first to offer front disc brakes as well as the era’s last word in mobile entertainment, an 8-track stereo tape player. But it was the last year the Malibu had to play second fiddle to the Chevelle, for the 1968 version was radically restyled and established as its own model line, while the Chevelle slowly lost ground and was eventually discontinued ten years later. Tommy’s car, then, has added appeal as the last of those first generation Chevelle Malibus, before the marque broke loose and began evolving toward muscle car territory.
Later iterations of the Malibu included the dubious attempt in the early 1980s by General Motors’ Canadian subsidiary to sell a fleet of 25,000 four-door Malibus to Iraq for use as taxis, although only half that number ever made it to the Middle East before war broke out with neighboring Iran. NASCAR fans will remember the Malibu body style as one of the most popular on the track during the late 1970s and early 1980s, particularly the Laguna S version, in which Cale Yarborough won 20 races in the mid-1970s. But by the mid-1990s, the Malibu had begun to shed its muscle car persona to compete with smaller, leaner rivals from Japan, retaining its smaller size and more modest pretensions to the present.
Tommy intends to keep the car for another five or six years, but the restoration bug may have bitten deeper than he expected. “I think Buicks from the late 1940s and early 1950s are pretty cool,” he says.